The cocoa for Divine chocolate is grown in the southern regions of Ghana by a farmers' co-operative called Kuapa Kokoo.
Growing the cocoa
Cocoa is usually grown on small family owned plots of land although there are some plantations being established in Asia. In Ghana the main species of cocoa grown is called Forastero, and plantations account for only 1% of cocoa production there.
Most Ghanaian cocoa is grown on small family farms, typically of between 2-3 hectares. It is usually intercropped with other plants and trees, such as plantains (part of the banana family), maize and spices. These not only provide shade whilst the young cocoa is growing but can also provide up to 65% of the family's own food supply, as well as additional income.
Cocoa trees grow to between 12 to 15 metres high, and it is about 3-4 years before the flowers first appear. The tiny blossoms are so intricate that insects have difficulty finding their way inside to fertilise the pollen. Because this vital journey to reach the flowers' stamen is so difficult, out of the 10,000 blossoms produced by each tree, only about 20 - 30 are pollinated and become cocoa pods. Each pod contains about 40 seeds which become cocoa beans. It takes one tree's whole crop for the year to make three big bars of Divine.
Most species of cocoa tree produce two crops per year. The cocoa pods ripen and are ready for harvesting around 5 to 6 months after pollination. In Ghana, the main harvest (70 % of the year's crop) is between October and January, with a smaller, secondary crop ready in June. The giant pods, which look like yellow rugby balls, grow straight out of the trunk and branches of the tree.
Harvesting, fermenting and drying the beans
The harvest time is crucial if good quality beans are to be produced. If the pods are too ripe they are vulnerable to disease, or the beans might start to germinate. However, if the pods are too green the cocoa beans will be of very poor quality, because not enough of the 'aromatics' which produce the familiar cocoa flavour are produced.
Harvesting is very labour intensive, the farmers cut the pods from the trees, this has to be done carefully in order to avoid damaging the rest of the tree. The pods are then split open with huge sharp bladed knives and the slimy pulp containing the beans is scraped out. Again this needs to be done precisely in order not to damage the beans. There have been attempts to develop machines to undertake this work, but mechanised cutting systems often damage the cocoa beans and so are not widely used.
Once harvested, the beans undergo a two-stage process to prepare them for sale: fermentation and drying. These processes begin the transition from bitter cocoa bean to what eventually ends up as the taste we all love in chocolate bars.
Fermentation is a vital step in developing the cocoa bean's 'aromatics'. They are heaped up on dark green plantain leaves and then the leaves are wrapped around them.
These "parcels" are left in the heat for 5-8 days to ferment. The fleshy pulp which holds the beans inside the pod is crucial to the development of the cocoa flavour - this pulp holds the fresh cocoa beans on banana leafsugars, acids and yeasts which kick-start the fermentation process.
As fermentation progresses, the temperature inside the heap increases, this removes the germinating power from the bean, the pulp turns to liquid and drains away and the organic compounds in the bean start to change to the colour and flavour that we associate with chocolate.
Finally the beans are dried. They are spread out on large tables in the sun and turned regularly to ensure they dry evenly and do not stick together. The drying process takes about 5-12 days and in this time the moisture content is reduced from 60% to less than 8%. The beans are then packed Kuapa farmer drying beans up into jute bags and stored in fully ventilated warehouses.
The Kuapa Kokoo farmers carry out all the processes described above. Each farmer will harvest and ferment his or her beans and the drying is done on large tables used by the whole village. Each Kuapa village society has a local recorder who is responsible for collecting and weighing the dried beans and ensuring that their quality is high enough to sell. He is also responsible for arranging for Kuapa to send transport to collect the beans; he receives payment from Kuapa and distributes the payment to the farmers.
Kuapa recorder and scalesKuapa then transports the bagged cocoa beans to warehouses at the port in Tema, near Accra, Ghana's capital. At this point Cocobod, the Government agency with responsibility for the export and international sales of all the cocoa beans from Ghana, buys the beans from Kuapa.
Manufacturing the chocolate bar
The beans are then shipped by a Dutch importer to Europe, where the dry, hard cocoa beans are transformed into scrumptious, luxuriously melting chocolate.
The beans are sorted and cleaned and then roasted at between 120ºC - 149ºC. The roasting develops the colour and is the second stage in the development of the chocolate flavour that began during fermentation on the cocoa farm.
After roasting the beans are crushed to release the internal "nib" from the shells. They are then blown through an air tunnel. This winnowing process blows the shell fragments up and away from the cocoa nibs. The nibs are then ground into a thick brown liquid called cocoa mass. This is made up of rich cocoa butter (55-60%) with fine cocoa particles suspended in it.
The cocoa mass is then heavily pressed until the cocoa butter is squeezed out, and it is separated into cocoa powder and cocoa butter. The cocoa powder can then be used in chocolate drinks, confectionary and cooking.
Cocoa butter and cocoa mass is combined in varying proportions and the sugar and milk for milk chocolate is added. This mixture is then stirred continuously over several days in a process called conching which gives the finished chocolate its smooth, silky texture. It is then cooled slowly, whilst it is still moving in the machine.
This is called tempering. The resulting mixture is called couverture and forms the basis of most finished chocolate products. It can then be moulded into chocolate bars, poured over individual confectionary items, shaped into eggs and used in ice cream. White chocolate has no cocoa powder, only cocoa butter and sugar.
Other ingredients such as nuts can be added, as well as any flavourings that the manufacturer puts in. A lot of English chocolate also has vegetable fat added. Divine only uses cocoa butter, which, because of its melting temperature, gives it the luxurious melt in the mouth feel, the added lecithin is not genetically modified and the vanilla is natural rather than synthetic.
Once the chocolate is ready, it is wrapped and packed, transported to large handling warehouses and then finally distributed to the shops where you, the consumer, can buy it.